Stock Market Week: Why chartists expect Footsie at 4,000 by the end of August

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The Independent Online
Could Footsie nudge 4,000 points by the end of next month? A fascinating thought in view of the tremors of last week.

Chris Chaitow, chartist at Robert Fleming Securities, is the man putting his head on the block by suggesting such a strong display.

Chartists, of course, plot the past to predict the future. And it is a study of Footsie since it was launched 12 years ago that has allowed Mr Chaitow to arrive at his conclusion.

Last month Footsie fell for six consecutive days. It was only the tenth time such a run had occurred. The Fleming man says after most of the 10 retreats shares were up a month later. This time round they have performed true to form. But, more importantly, two months after each of the six- day slides the stock market was higher and the average gain 100 days afterwards was nearly 10 per cent.

Says Mr Chaitow: "Of course, the natural trend of equity markets is up anyway but these results are two-to-three times the moves one would expect under normal conditions."

In chartist speak there is, however, one unhelpful influence. The June six-day fall took Footsie below 3,700 - a crucial support level.

Mr Chaitow goes with the bull case and, with Footsie going above 3,700 since the slide, "the potential if the signal works is that it could be very close to 4,000 by the end of August".

Chartists do not enjoy universal support. Many look upon them as odd- ball characters, even cranks, surrounded and mesmerised by charts. There is a deep scepticism about the value of their work. A jibe by Jim Slater, in the days before he became a minus-millionaire, about men in ragged raincoats with big bank overdrafts, still lingers hurtfully.

Even so, charting is an area which few large investment houses are prepared to ignore. Most have chartists on their books with, for example, Richard Lake at SBC Warburg and Robin Griffiths at James Caple enjoying, like Mr. Chaitow, wide followings.

Fund managers have also become more optimistic, according to a survey by Merrill Lynch. For the first half of the year bears were in the ascendancy but in recent months fund managers have said they intend to increase their UK exposure.

Investment house year-end Footsie forecasts are generally unchanged. Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull is on 3,900 to 4,100; James Capel goes for 4,000; so does Charterhouse Tilney. NatWest Securities looks for 3,700 and Goldman Sachs 3,400.

While the debate about the market's direction continues, share trading gets even more sophisticated. Crest, a paperless share settlement system, will be launched today. Initially it will embrace only 14 companies, with English China Clays the largest.

The 14 have been selected to give Crest a spread of experience. First settlements on the electronic system will be on 19 August. Other stocks will be quickly pulled in and the pounds 25m system, successor to the ill-fated Taurus which was abandoned in 1993 after costing pounds 400m, should be handling 95 per cent of share transactions by the end of April.

After then, it would not be surprising if there is eventually a concerted effort to eliminate paper share certificates, now rather dowdy documents and far removed from the colourful, even exotic creations which used to circulate.

The advent of Crest could be regarded as yet further discouragement for private investors. Whether that will turn out to be the case remains to be seen.

Private investors have three choices. Carry on as normal and hope companies continue to issue certificates; operate through a stockbrokers' nominee account, which means they will be lumped in with others and lose almost all shareholders' traditional rights, or become a sponsored member of Crest.

Cost of membership depends on the stockbroker, who will be charged pounds 20 by Crest for each member. So the broker should not, in theory, need to heap much on top of the initial membership fee. Some brokers say their sponsorship will be free.

Such a set-up should not be too discriminatory against the private investor. However, the market's obvious desire at least to keep pace with markets around the world does mean life is becoming more difficult for the small man while the power of the institutions continues to increase.

Yet the private investor remains the lifeblood of small stockbrokers. They still represent a substantial number of the market's bargains although in valuation terms they are dwarfed by institutional power.

With settlement periods being reduced - instant settlement eventually - the old- fashioned share certificate might not, therefore, last much longer, except when it is tucked away in a drawer by an investor who rarely, if ever, trades and is content to concentrate on dividend payments.

British Telecom, with first quarter figures, and Bulmer, the cider group, are among companies which have so far signalled profit announcements this week.

Bulmer, the Woodpecker and Strongbow group which is still the country's biggest cider maker despite the rapid growth of Matthew Clark, is not expected to produce outstanding figures on Wednesday.

Colin Davies at Goldman Sachs is on pounds 27.5m, which would represent a pounds 2.5m advance. In March, Bulmer consolidated its position as number one when it splashed out pounds 23.3m for Inch's cider, the biggest independent with a 7 per cent market share.

BT has first quarter figures, also on Wednesday. An announcement tomorrow involving BAA, the airports group, could, however, have a much bigger share impact.

The Civil Aviation Authority is expected to produce a new pricing package for BAA's south-eastern airports. With regulators getting more aggressive there is always the fear BAA could face much tighter controls than is generally expected. But Lehman Brothers is relaxed, expecting CAA moves to have only a modest impact on BAA's profits, which analyst Guy Kekwick estimates at pounds 455m this year.